Assad 311 reuters.
(photo credit: reuters)
Facing an unprecedented challenge to his 11-year rule, Syrian President Bashar
Assad announced Thursday he had ordered investigations into the deaths of
demonstrators in two protest-racked cities, and taken steps toward reassessing
the country’s despised emergency law.
Online activists have called for a
“Day of Martyrs” on Friday to march in solidarity with the at least 61
protesters killed by Assad’s security forces in the southern city of Deraa and
in Latakia, on Syria’s northwestern coast, in recent days.
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said he had ordered authorities to examine granting citizenship rights to
Syria’s largely disenfranchised Kurdish community. The state news agency SANA
said Assad had formed a committee to “solve the problem of the 1962 census” in
the eastern region of al- Hasaka. That census resulted in 150,000 Kurds who now
live in Syria being denied nationality.
SANA reported that the panel
Assad had appointed to examine the emergency law would prepare anti-terrorism
legislation to replace it. The panel, SANA said, would prepare “legislation
including protecting the nation’s security and the citizens’ dignity, and
fighting terrorism, paving the way for lifting the emergency law.” It said the
committee would complete its work by April 25.
Syrian officials said last
week that a decision had been taken to abolish the five-decade-old emergency
law. But in a defiant speech to parliament Wednesday, Assad made no reference to
rescinding the law, nor set a timetable for reforms including legislation on
political parties, media freedom and fighting corruption.
blamed Israel and other outside conspirators for fomenting protest to divide the
country, and vowed that Syrians would “unite” and prevail.
on YouTube Thursday showed some Syrians reacting disgustedly to the speech,
branding Assad a liar and a criminal.
Other footage showed protests in Latakia, Hama and Deraa
– including images of what appeared to be Syrian security vehicles driving into
small groups of protesters at high-speed.
People were heard shouting
slogans demanding freedom and declaring that “it is better to die than be
Robert Baer, a former CIA operative in Syria, wrote
Wednesday in the Financial Times that the prospect of seeing Libya-scale unrest
in Syria is slim. Syrians, he wrote, remember well the 1982 crackdown by Hafez
Assad, the current president’s father, on a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the
central town of Hama in which between 10,000 and 40,000 people were
“There is no way to predict whether Mr Assad has the stomach for
another Hama, or for that matter, whether things will get bad enough for him to
consider it,” Baer wrote.
Referring to Assad’s ruling Alawite sect, the
dominant force in the military, he wrote, “the one certainty is that if he and
the Alawites are forced from power, Syria will not have an army to fill the
vacuum. And then the question becomes whether or not the west intervenes to stop
a civil war… If Hama is any guide, the potential for violence in Syria makes
Libya and Yemen look mild.”